Breakfast with Brother Hubbard: The most-important meal of the day
It's the most important meal of the day, so why is it the one we give least thought to? Today, we bring you tasty new ways to start your day, kicking off with a stop at the restaurant that you Voted as serving Ireland's Best Breakfast
When Garrett Fitzgerald and his partner, James Boland, opened the doors of their Brother Hubbard restaurant on Capel Street in March 2012, the north city street was a very different place to the one it is now. "It was height of the recession," remembers Fitzgerald. "It felt like a very risky location. Even during the boom, Capel Street hadn't seen much growth. And we had only 22 seats, yet we were worried that we mightn't have any customers at all. It was a Russian doll of risks."
Six years on, Brother Hubbard is thriving, the original space now used for private parties and the main restaurant - currently 140 seats with more to come - has moved into the corner premises a few doors along that was once home to celebrity chef Gary Rhodes' D7 which the business purchased last year. "We did think about turning it into a museum of the Celtic Tiger…" jokes Fitzgerald.
There's also a second restaurant, Brother Hubbard South on Harrington Street, and a successful cookbook, and, last month, Brother Hubbard won the Best Breakfast in Ireland in the Reader Travel Awards 2018 - as voted by the readers of Weekend and Independent.ie.
Fitzgerald grew up in a farmhouse B&B in Adare, Co Limerick, and went to the Shannon College of Hotel Management, where he killed two birds with one stone by taking a B. Comm. at the same time.
"I was always interested in hospitality," he says, "but when I graduated the Celtic Tiger was in full flow and I had a business degree, so I went to work with Arthur Andersen as a consultant. Then I went to a job at the Commission for Energy Regulation. My dad is a farmer and for him this was the holy grail, working in the public service."
Fitzgerald says that he spent all his spare time thinking about food and cooking. "I have more than 200 cookbooks, it's ridiculous," he says. "My favourites are Claudia Roden, who writes about the Middle East, and Nigel Slater. I love his writing style, it's like a conversation. They would be the ones that I pick up most often. Ottolenghi too, of course, he's the one who introduced me to modern Middle Eastern food.
"I didn't hate my job, but the idea of working with food and being an entrepreneur appealed to me. And I had just turned 30 so I was taking stock and realising that life is not a rehearsal and that I owed it to myself to do what I was dreaming of." Fitzgerald signed up for a two-year career break, rented out his house, and took himself off to the Ballymaloe Cookery School for three months. "My parents thought I was mad, but at least I had the safety net. Although my intention was not to return, I was prepared that I might change my mind. I knew that cooking for a living would be completely different to baking a cake on a Saturday afternoon…
"After Ballymaloe, James and I headed off backpacking. We wanted to explore lots of different cuisines. After a few months, we pitched up in Melbourne, with the intention of working there. We had visited before and liked the city's coffee and casual dining scene. I wanted to work somewhere that had a similar ethos to mine, and I ended up with jobs in two small owner-run businesses; it was as important to me to see the business side as to be cooking professionally. The best lesson of all was when one of the owners I was working with opened a new business that failed within a year."
The diverse restaurant culture of Melbourne gave Fitzgerald the opportunity to explore a host of different cuisines, including Greek and Vietnamese. But it was the food of the Middle East that most captured his imagination. "I was very excited by it," he says, "and I thought that it would work in Ireland. By that stage, James had had enough of backpacking, so he stayed on in Melbourne and I headed on to the Middle East, visiting the Lebanon, Syria [this was before the situation there became so volatile], Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. I had one contact in Lebanon, and after that I couch-surfed. It was brilliant, I was staying with locals and if they were interested in food they'd bring you along to their favourite spots, so I had lots of opportunities to observe and engage with food. In Aleppo, the souk was amazing. I took in a few cookery classes along the way.
"All the time I was honing the vision. I knew that I wanted to do a casual dining café rather than a restaurant, and to serve my version of the authentic recipes that I'd learned. I never wanted Brother Hubbard to be pigeon-holed as a Middle Eastern restaurant, because I didn't want to alienate anyone. I wanted it to be an everyday place, rather than somewhere people would come once in a while, and only if they specifically wanted to go to a Middle Eastern restaurant."
But by the time that Fitzgerald arrived back in Ireland in 2010, the wheels had come off the wagon in terms of the economy. "It was desperate. Everything had changed, but there were still some people who seemed to have a few quid. And good places serving good quality food and offering good value seemed to be surviving and even thriving. I still thought there was an opportunity."
It took a long time to find the money - and premises. "Between the bank and the business plan, we were on the verge of giving up when Capel Street became available. I wasn't sure about the location, but I had a friend who is a lawyer and she said that her lawyer pals were always complaining there was nowhere to eat in the area [near to the Four Courts]. It felt right. It had been a small restaurant before so it already had planning permission and extraction and loos. We signed the lease, and then had a terrible time with the banks. They wouldn't say 'yes', but they wouldn't say 'no' either." In the end, the loan came through and Brother Hubbard was on its way. "It seems mad now, but the day before we opened I was anxious that we wouldn't have any customers. But we got a very warm reaction and haven't looked back since."
At the beginning, Brother Hubbard had just two employees.
"I was the only chef," says Fitzgerald, who has since stepped away from cooking full-time, "while James was more on the business side. Now I'm the general dogsbody, I do all the jobs that nobody else will do like unblocking the drains, and James deals with the accountants and looks after the payroll. I do cook a little, but I am more involved in the creative and quality side of the menu; we are pretty relentless in always evolving the menu and trying new things. We tend to revisit dishes and jeuje them up every once in a while. My office is in a little room off the kitchen and I keep the door open so I always know what is going on."
Gary Rhodes' former kitchens in the new premises are, says Fitzgerald, 'every chef's dream'. "Ironically," he says, "it was baking that got me into food in the first place but until now we couldn't bake our own bread - it's a real thrill."
Breakfast and brunch have been an important part of the business ever since Brother Hubbard first opened. "At the outset," says Fitzgerald, "we made a conscious decision not to do a full Irish, or eggs benedict. You could get those anywhere. I'm a firm believer that chefs need restriction to make them more creative. From day one we tried to be different, and to appeal to people who perhaps felt under-serviced. Occasionally we'd have walkouts because we didn't serve the full Irish but now more people are attracted to us because we don't. Avocado and eggs are still ridiculously popular. Halloumi sabiche (see overleaf), which is Iraqi in origin but I first had in Tel Aviv, and Turkish eggs menemen, which was on our very first brunch menu - there'd be riots if we took it off - are huge, too, and both vegetarian.
"Our menu tends to be Middle Eastern, and vegetable-focused. Lots of our customers chose the vegetarian and vegan options without even realising that they are doing it, and we have seen a major shift towards plant-based dishes to the extent that half our dinner menu is now vegan. Everyone is trying to eat more healthily and it's on trend, so Brother Hubbard has become an ideal venue for vegetarians and vegans and their friends to eat together. We run supper clubs once a month and the first one was a vegan night and we could have filled it five times over, we waited three months and did another and the same thing happened. The signal from the market is very clear - people have realised that it's not binary, you don't have to be one thing or the other.
"We used to do pulled pork - it was voted the best sandwich in Dublin, and it was ridiculously popular - and we made the decision to take it off the menu last September because we felt that it didn't really sit with who we are any more. Given the price point, we couldn't afford to do it with free-range pork, so we decided it had to go. Another thing we've noticed is that although we've been doing 'keep cups' for three-and-a-half years, the trend has only kicked off in the past six months."
Fitzgerald's plans for the year ahead include progressing the project on Capel Street and opening up a terrace where they'll plant only edibles, and starting to make their own yogurt and roast their own coffee. "Last year was a year of dramatic change," he says, "so 2018 will be more about consolidation and evolution."
The 'oh Brother!' way to start your day
Baklava French toast
This is a thoroughly delicious and somewhat indulgent breakfast — a particular treat for a Sunday morning, perhaps? Looking for inspiration from the Middle East, we wanted to add something a bit special from the region, so we got the idea of using a baklava-style filling. You get the wonderful texture of the French toast, the juicy flesh of the roasted fruit and the crunchy, nutty sweetness of the baklava filling, all counterbalanced by the mascarpone. Try to use muscovado sugar if you can, as it has such a depth of flavour, but any brown sugar will do.
2 red dessert apples or pears (or a mix of both), cored and cut into 4–6 wedges
100g muscovado sugar
75g walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
15g butter, melted
Sunflower or rapeseed oil
Seeds from ½ vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract
4 thick slices of day-old bread (brioche or a light sourdough are ideal)
4 dessert spoons mascarpone
A few sprigs of fresh mint
A handful of pomegranate seeds (optional)
Preheat your oven to 220°C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. First, roast the apples or pears. Toss the wedges in a bowl with 50g of the muscovado sugar. Turn the fruit out onto the lined baking tray and pop in the oven. Check after 15 minutes — the wedges should be nicely soft but still holding their shape. Roast for longer if needs be, then put to one side (we serve the fruit warm as opposed to piping hot out of the oven). There will be a lovely caramel around the fruit that you’ll want to drizzle over the finished dish.
Next, make the baklava by mixing the walnuts with the remaining 50g of muscovado sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl. Pour over the melted butter, stir to combine and put to one side.
Now place your frying pan over a medium heat and add a little oil. While that’s heating up, crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk really well with the cream and vanilla. Pour this into a wide pan or bowl so that you can dip the bread in it easily. Dip each slice of bread into the egg mix. Be patient, as you want the egg to fully soak in but not to the extent that the bread will fall apart. I recommend letting it sit in the egg mix for 20–30 seconds, then turn the bread over and repeat on the other side.
Lift out the bread, shaking off the excess egg, and put it in the hot frying pan. Fry, shaking it loose after the first 15–20 seconds, and cook for 2–4 minutes, until it’s decently browned underneath. Turn over and repeat with the other side. The bread should be lightly browned and the egg mix cooked through but not overcooked. If you think it needs more time, turn down the heat to low and let it sit until you feel it’s done (check by squeezing the bread or even cutting through to the centre and seeing if it’s still too wet in the middle).
If cooking more than one portion, place the cooked French toast in a low oven to keep warm and repeat with the other portions. An alternative would be to cook the toast off quickly on both sides in the frying pan — repeating for all of the slices, essentially sealing them — and then place the bread on a lined baking tray and finish in the oven for about 10 minutes at 180°C, until cooked through.
Now, build your plate. Place 2 slices of French toast on each warm plate or in a wide bowl. Put 2 dessert spoons of the mascarpone on top, then crumble over 2 dessert spoons of the baklava. Divide the roasted fruit wedges over the toast. Finish by drizzling some of the caramel from the baking tray over the toast and scattering over some torn fresh mint and pomegranate seeds, if using.
Tips & tricks
● This dish can look a bit beige/brown, so spruce it up by scattering some fresh raspberries or pomegranate seeds over it.
Spring-summer bircher muesli
Though suitable all year round, bircher muesli is the ideal summer breakfast to replace porridge — we often refer to it as ‘summer porridge’ in the café. This version (pictured top right) uses coconut and summery fruits to make it the perfect summer breakfast pot. Again, please do experiment. Some finely grated fresh ginger would work well here, as would any number of other fruits, toasted nuts and seeds.
300g organic rolled oats (porridge oats)
300ml best-quality fresh apple juice
200ml coconut milk
2tbsp coconut flakes
Zest and juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp Greek yogurt or crème fraîche
150g mango, diced (optional)
Pomegranate, seeds only (optional)
3 passionfruit, seeds only
20g fresh mint
Ideally you should soak the oats the night before, but even an hour or two in advance is fine. Place the oats in a bowl, then add the apple juice and two-thirds of the coconut milk. Stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight or for a few hours at least.
To toast your coconut flakes (and make sure they are flakes, not dusty desiccated coconut, as this makes all the difference), heat a dry frying pan over a medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the coconut flakes and continue to heat, tossing every 10–15 seconds until they are nicely toasted (2–3 minutes in total) and the edges have taken on a nice light brown colour. Transfer to a bowl, otherwise the coconut flakes might burn from the residual heat in the pan.
When ready to serve, uncover the oats and add the honey, lime zest and juice. Now stir well — the mix should have a soft, loose, porridge-like consistency. If you feel that the mix is too thick, add an extra dash of apple juice (or even a little water) and coconut milk to loosen it. If you feel it needs a little more sweetness, add more honey and stir well. Similarly, add more lime if needed to give it that fresh kick. Play around with it until you are happy that it tastes delicious.
To build your dish, place a cup of oats in each serving bowl. Place a spoonful of yogurt on top, then sprinkle with the toasted coconut flakes, followed by the diced mango and the pomegranate seeds, if using. Finish with a spoonful of passionfruit seeds, some torn fresh mint leaves and a drizzle of the remaining coconut milk.
The oat base will hold perfectly in the fridge for 2–3 days. Just taste it every time you use it, as the flavours and texture will evolve. Each time, it might need more apple juice or some of the reserved coconut milk (for flavour and/or texture) or more lime or honey (for flavour).
For years, I didn’t love porridge (now I do — an almost life-changing development, to be honest), so bircher muesli was a great alternative — it’s incredibly easy, tasty, filling and quite healthy. It’s the perfect dish to have as a breakfast or a mini-bowl to serve as part of a brunch. It also travels well, so pot it up and bring it to work or have it on the go. The base of soaked oats holds well, so you can make extra to keep in the fridge and then keep the ingredients for serving with it each morning separate.
It was developed in Switzerland many moons ago by a doctor who was ahead of his time in terms of his approach to nutrition, advocating as he did a diet built around eating lots of raw fruit and vegetables (and all of this before the discovery of vitamins!).
Dr Bircher-Benner’s muesli is essentially a raw oat dish, where the rolled oats are soaked rather than cooked (as they would be for a proper porridge). By soaking them, you get them lovely and soft, particularly if you use something acidic like apple juice, which breaks the oat down slightly and gently while also imbuing it with a delicious fruity flavour. We then add all sorts of elements to this base mix to bring about all manner of wonderful combinations and textures.
As with so many of our recipes, please do use these as a starting point to go off and develop your own variations, perhaps secretly paying thanks to Dr Bircher-Benner for his delicious discovery.
I first came across “sabiche” in Tel Aviv, where I had to line up behind a queue of locals outside a little stand (always a good sign!) to order this delicious dish. Sabiche actually has its origins in Iraq but is now a firm favourite amongst the locals there — and also here in Dublin, where it is one of the most popular dishes on our menu. It works perfectly as a later breakfast, brunch, lunch or even a supper.
This is our take on it, which varies a little bit from the totally traditional version. It is also vegetarian but you could easily add some meat to it; I’d say smoked salmon or a middle eastern-style sausage, such as a sujuk or merguez, would work very well here also.
We serve it with hot fried halloumi which works exceptionally well with it. We serve open-style, so you graze on the mixed elements with the warm bread, but you can stuff each of the filling elements into the warm pitta bread if you prefer. Just be sure to eat this when it is freshly made and all the cooked components are still warm!
2 medium boiled potatoes, cooked, cooled and peeled
2 freshly poached (or boiled eggs, peeled), still warm
1 large aubergine
Extra virgin olive oil
2 good quality pitta breads (or, better still, homemade flatbread)
2 fresh tomatoes
Good quality hummus (ideally, homemade)
Fresh herbs (a nice mixture of some or all of the following: mint, parsley, coriander), chopped
1 tbsp harissa paste/ or 1 tsp each of ground cumin and ground coriander
Pickles such as gherkin, chilli or cabbage (roughly chopped) and/or thinly sliced fresh red onion and/or pan-fried or baked halloumi
First off, have your eggs and potato element ready as per the ingredients list and preheat your oven to medium-high, about 190˚C. While that’s happening, cut the aubergine into big rings (about 2cm thick each). Brush each slice well on both sides with olive oil and season lightly. If you’ve any harissa, mix the harissa with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and smear generously over each side of each slice if you fancy. Alternatively, sprinkle over some ground cumin and ground coriander over the slices (both sides).
Dice the potatoes into large cubes (2cm) and toss in a little olive oil to coat. Season lightly. Pop the aubergine slices onto a lined roasting tray in a single layer. The potatoes can go on the same tray in a single layer if there’s room.
Roast for about 15 minutes. Check and assess: the potatoes will colour and crisp up and the aubergine will cook through and soften. Leave for longer if necessary, or leave to one side if done (they are best served warm rather than piping hot in this dish). The texture of the aubergine is quite important — avoid cooking it too far as it will fall apart but there are few things worse than an undercooked aubergine. You want it tender and soft all the way through, whilst not having it meltingly soft.
Just after the oven is turned off, you can warm the pittas in the cooling oven according to the package instructions. In my experience, it is best to wet each bread very lightly and pop in the oven until they get warmed through — without letting them get hard.
Dice your tomato and cucumber into small cubes (about 1cm or smaller). Season lightly and toss in a little olive oil, adding the red onion slices or roughly chopped pickles if using. Cut the egg in half if desired (I tend to leave whole if poached).
Assemble the dish by smearing the hummus generously over the plate and building up the layers with the potato, aubergine, cucumber and tomato mix, some fresh herbs and finally the egg on top. Add your optional extras such as the pickles, halloumi or meat.
Alternatively, cut open the pitta across the side to create a pocket and smear the hummus all over the inside. Pack all the filling in so it is nice and full but not falling apart!
Tips & tricks
● Warming the hummus first (in a bowl/tray suitable for the oven) works really well here. Warm hummus is one of my favourite things; we’ve a whole chapter of the Brother Hubbard Cookbook devoted to hummus!
● A drizzle of hot sauce (ideally homemade but something like Sriracha could work well also) over the finished dish adds a welcome heat. Alternatively, try making some zhough — a fiery, herby, delicious dressing — and drizzle over.
● I know I said they are optional but please do add the red onion and the pickles — you will probably thank me.
Bircher Muesli and Baklava French Toast recipes extracted from The Brother Hubbard Cookbook by Garrett Fitzgerald, with photography by Leo Byrne, published by Gill Books at €27.99